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Raves continue for book of Britten diaries edited by Bach Fest exec

  • Nov 3, 2009
John Evans may be the executive director of the Oregon Bach Festival, but he’s an academic specialist in the life of another composer, Benjamin Britten. Evans is the editor of the new volume Journeying Boy: The Diaries of the Young Benjamin Britten, released in the United Kingdom by Faber & Faber and that has achieved critical acclaim. Journeying Boy is available in hardcover and paperback editions through faber.co.uk; and in the US via Amazon.com. The Literary Review calls it a "refreshing and enlightening" picture of the artist. The book has also been featured in the UK Guardian and on the BBC radio 4's Front Row program. [links to coverage] Leader of the UO’s Oregon Bach Festival since September of 2007, Evans studied at the University of Wales, completing his doctoral thesis on Britten in 1984. He has lectured extensively on Britten throughout Europe and North America. Evans’ many publications include Benjamin Britten: Pictures from a Life 1913–1976, A Britten Source Book, contributions to The Britten Companion, and opera handbooks on Peter Grimes, Gloriana, The Turn of the Screw and Death in Venice.

The Journeying Boy

Following the premiere of Peter Grimes, Britten was hailed as the greatest arrival in English music since Henry Purcell in the 17th century. But how did a man from a modest, middle-class Suffolk family, the son of a rural dentist and an amateur musician, acquire a reputation as one of the most significant artists of his generation? Evans says the answers are to be found in Britten’s childhood and adolescence, and not least in the adoring relationship he enjoyed with his mother, whose faith in her son’s talent new no bounds – every step in this extraordinary progress documented by Britten himself in his daily journal. Britten’s diaries have previously been seen by academics, but never published. Shortly before his death in 1976, Britten gave them in a shoebox to scholar Donald Mitchell. “What you get from the diaries, read as a narrative,” said Evans, “is the man emerging, sometimes reluctantly, from boyhood: the tastes, the issues, the tensions and the sheer brilliance." The diaries follow his arrival as a reluctant boarder at school and the intense yet inspiring private lessons in London with his great mentor and teacher, Frank Bridge. They record the many frustrations of his student days at the Royal College of Music and the brilliance of his subsequent apprenticeship in London with the GPO Film Unit, the Group Theatre and at the BBC. His journeys through the turbulent 1930s, and collaborations with W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Louis MacNeice, Montagu Slater, William Coldstream, Alberto Cavalcanti and John Grierson, helped define Britten as a creative artist, and international acclaim at home and abroad very soon followed. “But these were difficult times, not least for Britten himself,” Evans concludes. “He lost both parents within three years, and began to feel (in his own words) orphaned, in search of love and an outsider—a young man struggling with his homosexuality and a pacifist at a time of imminent war throughout Europe. The self-portrait offers a fuller understanding of the man and the artist Britten was to become, and of the age in which he lived.” The title comes from Thomas Hardy’s Midnight on the Great Western, as set by Britten many years later, in Winter Words (1953): “What past can be yours, O journeying boy/Towards a world unknown…”